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Gay-rights leader Frank Kameny has died
News update posted Oct. 11, 2011
by Tracy Baim, Windy City Times
2011-10-19

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One of the gay movement's most important pioneers, Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, has died of natural causes. He was 86.

Kameny, a World War II Army veteran, was among the first gays to protest outside of the White House, on April 17, 1965, and later the Pentagon, Independence Hall in Philadelphia and other institutions. He fought against anti-gay bias in federal hiring, against the American Psychiatric Association's classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder, against the District of Columbia's sodomy law, and for a wide range of other LGBT rights.

Earlier this year, Kameny's 1961 petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking to reclaim his government job, was put on display at the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress exhibition states: "Frank Kameny, a founder of the American gay-rights movement, was the first person to file a petition to the Supreme Court for a violation of his civil rights based on sexual orientation after being fired by the Army Map Service [ he was an astronomer ] in 1957. Although Kameny argued that the government's actions toward gays were an 'affront to human dignity,' his petition was denied by the Supreme Court."

Almost 50 years later, Kameny was invited to the White House to right that wrong. The Obama administration, represented by openly gay John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, apologized to Kameny for the treatment he received from the U.S. government, and he gave Kameny the Theodore Roosevelt Award, his office's highest honor, on June 29, 2009.

OPM's Berry issued a statement about Kameny: "Dr. Frank Kameny was an American hero who transformed our nation's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. His courage, his brilliance, his force of will led to victory in a decades-long fight for equality. He helped make it possible for countless of patriotic Americans to hold security clearances and high government positions, including me. And in so doing, he showed everyone what was possible for every employer in our country. He was known for being feisty and combative, but he was also big-hearted. He honored me personally by attending my swearing-in, and showed his ability to forgive by accepting my official apology on behalf of the government for the sad and discredited termination of his federal employment by the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the predecessor of the agency I now head. We presented and he accepted OPM's highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award, given to those who are courageous in defense of our nation's Merit Principles. I am grateful for his life, his service to his nation in WWII, and his passion and persistence in helping build a more perfect union. He was a great man, and I will sorely miss him."

Despite that 1961 setback, Kameny continued to be an activist for the next five decades. He co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington in 1961 with Jack Nichols. He was the first openly gay person to run for Congress, in 1971. In 2007, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History included Kameny's 1965 White House picket signs in an exhibit.

Kameny visited Chicago several times. He attended the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations ( NACHO ) in Chicago just four days before the Democratic National Convention in 1968. NACHO was a coordinating group made up of 26 organizations, and the Chicago event was its third annual conference. At that Chicago conference, he coined and secured the group's approval of the slogan "Gay Is Good," representing official defiance of the then-still-prevailing views of homosexuality as an illness or a sin, if not a crime.

Kameny returned to Chicago in 1972 to participate in the first national conference to set a gay political agenda. The meetings were held in Chicago Feb. 11-13 at a North Side church. A 17-point "Gay Rights Platform in the United States" was passed by the more than 200 delegates who were representing some 80 organizations, according to writer and activist Marie J. Kuda.

When Chicago's chapter of the early national gay organization One Inc. hosted an annual banquet in early 1974, Kameny was among the national movement leaders who attended.

Kameny's home in D.C. was designated a historic landmark by that city in 2009. The "Doctor" in his name is from a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University.

Longtime Chicago activist William B. Kelley had known Kameny since 1966, when both participated in the National Planning Conference of Homophile Organizations, a meeting in Kansas City that created NACHO.

On learning of Kameny's death, Kelley said: "I'm glad Frank began to receive wider recognition in recent years for those decades of stubborn and self-sacrificial battles for gay equality. Besides his commitment and achievements, I admired his great intelligence, his meticulous, utterly honest self-presentation, and his ready wit. He could sometimes appear sure of himself and of what he had done, but he deployed that certitude for all of our sakes, not for his own. And even if it had been otherwise, he would have been entitled: He was a giant figure in our history, and now one sadly missed."

Long-time Chicago historian, writer and activist Marie J. Kuda also reflected on Kameny. "I did not know Kameny but knew his cohort Barbara Gittings well and she told many tales of his mischievous side," Kuda said. "Chicago witnessed it when The Chicago Gay Crusader [ May 1974 edition ] ran a front-page pix of Kameny 'streaking' through the Beckman House community center on Halsted Street ( editor Mike Bergeron added a tasteful fig leaf ) . Gittings always said 'if we weren't having fun we couldn't have survived the rigors of the movement.'" Joining Kameny for that streaking incident during the Beckman House reception was Morris Kight of Los Angeles. Photos of the incident were sold to benefit the New Orleans Memorial Fund, to help those recovering from a June 24, 1973 fire at a gay club. The arson attack on the Upstairs Lounge killed 32 men and injured dozens.

The staff and board of directors at the American Foundation for Equal Rights extended heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of Kameny. AFER noted that his passing, on National Coming Out Day, came less than a month before the planned celebration of the 50th anniversary of Kameny's founding the Mattachine Society of Washington.



The president of AFER's board of directors, Chad Griffin, released the following statement: "America has lost a hero today. Out and proud, Frank Kameny was fighting for equality long before the rest of us knew we could." He added, "Because there was one Frank Kameny, trailblazing and honest enough to speak out 50 years ago, there are now millions of Americans, coming out, speaking out and fighting for their basic civil rights. His is a legacy of bravery and tremendous impact and will live on in the hearts and minds of every American who values equality and justice."

In the landmark ruling striking down Proposition 8, AFER said the U.S. District Court referenced the efforts of Kameny and the Mattachine Society to chronicle the history of state-enforced discrimination against gays and lesbians. The court cited the famous 1966 letter from the chairman of the U.S. Civil Service Commission rejecting the Mattachine Society's request to rescind the policy banning "active homosexuals" from federal employment.

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, co-founded by Kameny in 1976, called him the father of the District of Columbia's gay rights movement.

"Frank was the most instrumental person in the history of the gay movement," said Paul Kuntzler, Stein Club co-founder. "I went to San Francisco on Thursday, June 6, 1963 to see Hall Call, the president of the San Francisco Matachine Society. Hall had never met Frank at the time, but Hall was already complaining to me about him. He said to me 'that Frank Kameny keeps openly using the word homosexuality. Doesn't he know he should remain quiet and let the civil libertarians speak on his behalf.'" The Stein Club was founded in Kuntzler's living room.

The Stein Club plans to annually honor a pioneering member of the LGBT community with the Dr. Frank Kameny award. The first award, given at the 35th Anniversary Leadership Awards on Oct. 27, will be awarded to Kameny posthumously. They are asking members of the community to email photos of Frank Kameny to president@steindemocrats.org .

"The American Psychiatric Association included homosexuality as a mental disorder," stated Malcolm Lazin, executive director, Equality Forum in Philadelphia. "Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings successfully demonstrated at the 1971 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. At the 1972 annual meeting, Kameny and Gittings presented a program with Dr. No, a gay psychiatrist, who was disguised to avoid recognition. With Dr. No, they explained why pervasive homophobia was the cause of emotional problems, not being gay. A committee was formed to study the issue. On December 15, 1973, homosexuality was removed as a mental illness."

"We mourn the loss of one of the pioneers of our movement and a man who never stopped fighting for LGBT equality," said Kevin Cathcart, Lambda Legal's executive director. "When Frank Kameny first stood up for his rights in the late 1950s, he stood up for all of us, and the fight that he helped to ignite more than fifty years ago is still our fight today. There has been so much progress toward LGBT equality since then, it is sometimes hard to imagine the courage and vision it took to do what he did: he spoke up, organized, took to the streets and also took his challenge to the Supreme Court. … Those of us in the LGBT rights movement owe him a great deal of gratitude and respect—and the country owes him that, as well, for insisting that we live up to our ideals as a nation."

"Mr. Kameny's commitment to equality and justice serves as an inspiration to millions and his legacy will continue to inspire for years to come," said National Minority AIDS Council Deputy Executive Director Daniel C. Montoya. "All people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or HIV status, deserve to live with dignity. On behalf of NMAC, its staff and its constituents, we thank Mr. Kameny for his decades of leadership and dedication and express our deepest sympathies to his loved ones."

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued the following statement: "Frank Kameny led an extraordinary life marked by heroic activism that set a path for the modern LGBT civil rights movement. From his early days fighting institutionalized discrimination in the federal workforce, Dr. Kameny taught us all that 'Gay Is Good.' As we say goodbye to this trailblazer on National Coming Out Day, we remember the remarkable power we all have to change the world by living our lives like Frank—openly, honestly and authentically."

"The death of Frank Kameny is a profound loss and he will be greatly missed," said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "No Washington LGBT event or White House meeting was complete without Frank. I always appreciated that he gave the 50-plus-year perspective, the long view. While so many have been impatient about the pace of progress, there was Frank, insisting we recognize that, in the last two years, he was regularly invited as a guest of honor by the very government that fired him simply for being gay. Yet, he never slowed down in demanding what should be, showing us what was possible and pushing for the very equality and liberation we are still fighting for. As the history books are written on the LGBT movement, no doubt Frank's life will serve as an inspiration to those who will never have the honor of meeting him, but who embody the very future he knew would come true one day. Indeed, Frank, Gay is Good."

"Kameny's life spanned the baddest old days of the McCarthy-style witch hunts to the elations of winning marriage equality in the District of Columbia and beyond," said Sue Hyde, director, NGLTF's National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. "In 1957, Frank lost his job, but he never lost his fierce fighting spirit, his blunt and witty command of language, or his commitment to eradicating homophobia. Frank was equally confident and strategic on the streets in front of the White House in 1965 as he was attending a White House meeting in 1977 at which he and a dozen other members of our community briefed then-Public Liaison Midge Costanza on much-needed changes in federal laws and policies. As the LGBT movement began to win in legislatures, courtrooms, and in public opinion, Frank's papers, artifacts and memories gained value. Frank Kameny wasn't only a keeper of our history, Frank created our history. His life and legacy carry us into our future."

Army Veteran and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis also commented on Kameny's death. "Our nation and our movement have lost a tireless advocate for LGBT rights," he said. "Kameny's long and hard work laid the foundation for much of the progress we see today, and certainly none more so than the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' It was his great wish to see that law relegated to the history books, and we are so proud that he was able to see that day and be a key part of that shared victory. At SLDN, we mourn the loss of our friend and ally, and we rejoice that Frank could join SLDN for special events and provide us with encouragement and wise counsel at critical stages as we followed in his footsteps and lifted posters to lobby Congress, the White House and the Pentagon for recognition and our equality."

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation ( GLAAD ) issued the following statement: "Frank Kameny sparked national change and set the example for gay and lesbian Americans to live their lives openly and proudly. He taught us the power that our visibility and stories have in changing hearts and minds. Today on National Coming Out Day, we honor Frank's legacy not only by remembering this pioneer, but by continuing his work to speak out and share our own stories."

Kameny sent the following letter in 2007 to author and retired journalist Tom Brokaw, Random House Publisher Gina Centrello and Random House Executive Editorial Director Kate Medina regarding Brokaw's newest book, Boom! Voices of the Sixties. It sums up Kameny's passions and commitment to gay rights very well.

"Dear Mr. Brokaw and Mmes. Centrello and Medina:

"As a long-time gay activist who initiated gay activism and militancy at the very start of 'your' Sixties, in 1961; coined the slogan 'Gay is Good' in 1968; and is viewed by many as one of the 'Founding Fathers' of the Gay Movement, I write with no little indignation at the total absence of any slightest allusion to the gay movement for civil equality in your book 'Boom! Voices of the Sixties'. Your book simply deletes the momentous events of that decade which led to the vastly altered and improved status of gays in our culture today. This change would have been inconceivable at the start of the Sixties and would not have occurred at all without the events of that decade totally and utterly ignored by you. Mr. Brokaw, you have 'de-gayed' the entire decade. 'Voices of the Sixties'??? One does not hear even one single gay voice in your book. The silence is complete and deafening.

"As a gay combat veteran of World War II, and therefore a member of the 'Greatest Generation', I find myself and my fellow gays as absent from your narration as if we did not and do not exist. We find Boom! Boom!! Boom!!! in your book about all the multitudinous issues and the vast cultural changes of that era. But not a single 'Boom', only dead silence, about gays, homosexuality, and the Gay Movement.

"The development of every other possible, conceivable issue and cause which came to the forefront in that period is at least mentioned, and is usually catalogued: race; sex and gender; enthnicity; the environment; and others, on and on and on—except only gays.

"In 1965, we commenced bringing gays and our issues 'out of the closet' with our then daring picketing demonstrations at the White House and other government sites, and our annual 4th of July demonstrations at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The Smithsonian Institution displayed these original pickets last month, in the same exhibition as the desk where Thomas Jefferson drafted The Declaration of Independence. The name of the Smithsonian's exhibition? 'Treasures of American History'. In your book: No Boom; only silence.

"About 1963, a decade-long effort commenced to reverse the psychiatric categorization of gays as mentally or emotionally ill, concluding in 1973 with a mass 'cure' of all of us by the American Psychiatric Association. No boom in your book; only your silence.

"The most momentous single Gay Movement event occurred at the end of June, 1969, when the 'Stonewall Rebellion' in New York, almost overnight ( actually it took three days ) converted what had been a tiny, struggling gay movement into the vast grass-roots movement which it now is. We had five or six gay organizations in the entire country in 1961; fifty to sixty in 1969; by the time of the first Gay Pride march, in New York one year later in 1970, we had 1500, and 2500 by 1971 when counting stopped. If ever there was Boom, this was it. In your book, no Boom, only your silence.

"About 1972, Elaine Noble was elected to the Massachusetts state House of Representatives as the first elected openly gay public official. I had run here in Washington, D.C., the previous year for election to Congress as the first openly gay candidate for any federal office. Harvey Milk was elected to the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco. No boom in your book; only your silence.

"Mr. Brokaw, you deal with the histories of countless individuals. Where are the gays of that era: Barbara Gittings; Jack Nichols; Harry Hay; Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons; Randolfe Wicker; Harvey Milk; numerous others? No booms in your book; only silence and heterosexuals.

"Starting in 1961 a long line of court cases attacked the long-standing U.S. Civil Service Gay Ban ( fully as absolute and as virulent as the current Military Gay ban, which actually goes back some 70 years and was also fought in the 60s ) with final success in 1975 when the ban on employment of gays by the federal government was rescinded. In your book, no boom; only your silence.

"The assault on the anti-sodomy laws, which made at least technical criminals of all gays ( and most non-gays for that matter, although never used against them ) and which was the excuse for an on-going terror campaign against the gay community through arrests the country over, began in 1961 and proceeded through the 60s and onward. In your book, no boom; only your silence.

"In 1972, following up on Stonewall, the first anti-discrimination law protective of gays was enacted in East Lansing, Michigan, followed by the much more comprehensive one in D.C. in 1973, starting a trend which now encompasses some twenty states, countless counties and cities, and has now reached Congress in ENDA. In your book, no boom; only your silence.

"The Sixties were a period of unprecedented rapid social and cultural upheaval and change. We gays were very much a part of all that. A reader of your book would never have the slightest notion of any of that. In your book, no boom; only your silence.

"At the start of the Sixties gays were completely invisible. By the end, and especially after Stonewall, we were seen everywhere: in entertainment, education, religion, politics, business, elsewhere and everywhere. In Boom, our invisibility remains total.

"The only allusions to us, in your entire book are the most shallow, superficial, brief references in connection with sundry heterosexuals. Where are the gay spokespeople? We are certainly there to speak for ourselves. But in your book, only silence.

"Mr. Brokaw, I could go on, but this should be sufficient to make my point. The whole thing is deeply insulting. As I said, you have de-gayed an entire generation. For shame, for shame, for shame. You owe an abject public apology to the entire gay community. I demand it; we expect it.

"Gay is Good. You are not.

"Sincerely,

"Franklin E. Kameny, Ph.D."

See www.kamenypapers.org


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